For nearly 30 years, Washington-based photographer Ray Wilson (pictured) captured thousands of photos of famous Black Americans, parlaying a hobby into a noteworthy mission. Although robbed of his sight by way of glaucoma in 2004, Wilson still exudes pride in capturing African Americans in their entire splendor. On May 14, the Greater Washington Urban League will honor Wilson for his photographic contributions.
A report from the Washington Post over the weekend focused on the life of Wilson in depth, revealing that in 1975 the retired Navy chief petty officer picked up a camera, forever altering the landscape of his life.
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“I wanted to be involved in the history,” said Wilson to the Post. “It wasn’t about the dollars and cents. I was just so enthusiastic about the things that were happening. Being able to document our people and this history was a gift and a joy. I didn’t know where it was leading when I started; I just enjoyed doing it.”
Snapping photos of Rosa Parks, Sidney Poitier, James Brown, Marion Barry, and Dorothy Height, Wilson’s work was mostly found in Black-owned newspapers and organizations. However, he has been nationally recognized, recently donating photos to the Auburn Avenue Research Library on African American Culture and History in Atlanta.
Although no longer able to see, Wilson is seemingly satisfied with what he was able to accomplish over the years by way of his camera. “My sight is totally gone,” said Wilson. “But I’m not disgruntled. I fulfilled my objective. And it hasn’t taken any of my joy away. I have a machine in the consciousness of my head that just flows.”